TACO Classical concert is on Saturday, Nov. 17
Open Rehearsal is on Friday, Nov. 16
***At a Glance***
TACO Classical Series concert
Saturday, Nov. 17, 8 p.m.
The VETS, One Avenue of the Arts, Providence
Christopher Warren-Green, conductor
Colin Carr, cello
Mary Wilson, soprano
Andrew Garland, baritone
BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No.3
ELGAR: Cello Concerto
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Dona nobis pacem
Friday, Nov. 16, 5:30 p.m.
General Admission is $15. Tickets are available at tickets.riphil.org or 401.248.7000 (Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Closed Veterans Day, Monday, Nov. 12).
Stories behind the music
Leonore Overture No.3, Op.72b
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770—1827)
The compositional struggles, revisions and re-writes that Ludwig van Beethoven endured are well known to us. Undoubtedly, the most extreme example was his solitary opera, Fidelio (originally titled Leonore), which underwent numerous and severe revisions between 1805 and 1814, resulting in three different versions before the master was satisfied. An important part of the Leonore/Fidelio evolution was Beethoven’s composition of no fewer than four different overtures for the opera. The composer apparently considered Leonore No.1 unsatisfactory as he took a different tack with Leonore No.2, making it closely follow the rescue plot of the opera. However, Leonore No.2 had many technical problems for the orchestra, so Beethoven began revising the movement. Radically altered and extended, that overture became Leonore No.3. In the 1814 revision of the opera, now re-titled Fidelio, the first act opens in a different key from previous versions, so Beethoven wrote a fourth and altogether new overture: Leonore.
Donald Tovey has written, “Leonore No.2 is an eminently successful dramatic introduction, while Leonore No.3 is a great concert-piece . . . the operatic prelude and the perfect tone-poem.” Perfect perhaps, because it mirrors the story up to a point, but then rounds out the movement with a balanced recapitulation.
Leonore No.3 begins with a compact Adagio introduction, soon reaching its highpoint, as the woodwinds quote Florestan’s touching aria from the opening of Act II. The main theme of the Allegro is entirely new material, but the second theme is an ingenious transformation of the Florestan quotation. The turbulent development reflects the struggle of Leonore (alias Fidelio) to free her husband, Florestan, from his unlawful and oppressive political imprisonment. Then comes the famous offstage trumpet call, signaling the arrival of the King’s minister who will set matters right. A false recapitulation in the flute follows—a quiet moment between husband and heroic wife. Then the true and triumphant recapitulation thunders into the full orchestra. The exultant Presto conclusion proclaims to the world that a heroic blow for personal freedom and political liberty has been struck.
Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op.85
EDWARD ELGAR (1857—1934)
No one who lived through World War I was the same after it ended. The world looked different. People had aged, and many prewar values now seemed irrelevant. Edward Elgar found himself in just such a state in 1919, the year in which he composed the Cello Concerto, his last major work. At that time, he and his wife lived in a cottage near Sussex. Biographer Michael Kennedy describes Elgar then: “He was an autumnal figure now, and his surroundings suited his frame of mind. He occupied himself chopping wood, making hoops for barrels and building bonfires.”
In the previous year, Elgar had composed three chamber works. Their restrained character and instrumentation no doubt had an influence on his approach to writing the Cello Concerto, so different from his Violin Concerto of ten years earlier.
Donald Tovey writes that the cello work is “. . . a fairy tale, full, like all Elgar’s larger works, of meditative and intimate passages; full also of humor, which, in the second movement and finale, rises nearer to the surface than Elgar usually permits.”
In addition, the movement plan is different from anything else Elgar wrote. The first two movements connect (moderate—fast tempos) as do the last two (slow—fast tempos).
Building from a noble cello solo, the first movement’s slow introduction arrives at a solemn grandeur and then subsides to introduce the graceful, lilting main theme. Most of this movement of “autumn smoke and falling leaves” (Kennedy) is based on that melody. A brief cello solo furtively introduces the second movement’s main theme. The cello’s busy but very precise part is highlighted throughout.
The slow movement is concise in size, instrumentation and musical material. Elgar masterfully builds an entire tragic nocturne on two phrases. A rhapsodic cello recitative (reminiscent of the concerto’s opening) forms a bridge to the highly spirited finale. The robust main theme contrasts with a second idea that to Tovey suggests “dignity at the mercy of a banana-skin.” Toward the end, reminiscences of themes from the third and first movements appear. The quietude of these sets up a last burst of the finale’s main theme, which tersely ends the concerto.
Dona nobis pacem
RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872—1958)
In the year 1936, England was feeling strong, having fully recovered from the end of World War I, 18 years earlier. Yet, the future of Europe was unsure. Few pundits could predict what Germany’s leader, Adolph Hitler, was planning, and England distrusted his gestures of peace. Many English sensed the coming of another horrific war, among them composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Vaughan Williams was then at the height of his creative powers, and as a commission for the centennial celebration of the Huddersfield Choral Society that year, he composed the cantata Dona nobis pacem. The texts were a mixture of reactions to war and pleas for peace. They carried an implicit warning of a coming war. Their sources were varied: the Latin Mass, the Bible, poems by Walt Whitman and a speech made in the House of Commons.
During World War II, Vaughan Williams conducted Dona nobis pacem several times, and later his wife Ursula commented that the music was “full of particular meaning for those days.” Dona nobis pacem had also foreshadowed by 26 years Benjamin Britten’s famous War Requiem. The cantata is scored for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus and large orchestra.
The first movement (soprano and orchestra) is a setting of the last sentence of the Latin Mass’s Agnus Dei: Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem (“Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.”)
Over the years, Vaughan Williams used several texts by the American poet Walt Whitman in his vocal works. He was quoted as stating, “I’ve never got over him, I’m glad to say.” In Dona nobis pacem, “Beat! Beat! Drums!” is the first of three poems from Whitman’s collection, Drum-Taps (published in 1865 just after the Civil War):
Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley—stop for no expostulation,
Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer,
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s entreaties,
Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump O terrible drums—so loud you bugles blow.
“Reconciliation” is the second Whitman poem used in this cantata. Set simply for baritone, chorus and orchestra, the text reads:
Word over all, beautiful as the sky!
Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost;
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night, incessantly softly
wash again, and ever again, this soil’d world:
…For my enemy is dead—a man divine as myself is dead;
I look where he lies white-faced, and still, in the coffin—I draw near;
Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.
The last Whitman poem, “Dirge for Two Veterans,” set for chorus and orchestra, speaks of a funeral cortege for the bodies of a father and his son:
The last sunbeam
Lightly falls from the finish’d Sabbath,
On the pavement here, and there beyond it is looking
Down a new-made double grave.
LO, the moon ascending,
Up from the east the silvery round moon,
Beautiful over the house-tops, ghastly, phantom moon,
Immense and silent moon.
I see a sad procession,
And I hear the sound of coming full-key’d bugles,
All the channels of the city streets they’re flooding,
As with voices and with tears.
I hear the great drums pounding,
And the small drums steady whirring,
And every blow of the great convulsive drums,
Strikes me through and through.
For the son is brought with the father,
(In the foremost ranks of the fierce assault they fell,
Two veterans, son and father, dropt together,
And the double grave awaits them.)
Now nearer blow the bugles,
And the drums strike more convulsive….
All vocal and instrumental forces join to present a text titled “The Angel of Death,” thought to be the only speech before Parliament ever set to music. The words are from John Bright’s address to the House of Commons in 1855, during the Crimean War:
The Angel of Death has been abroad throughout the land;
you may almost hear the beating of his wings.
There is no one as of old . . .
to sprinkle with blood the lintel
and the two side-posts of our doors,
that he may spare and pass on.
The full musical complement continues in the final movement, “O man greatly beloved.” The setting is of a series of Biblical passages:
O man greatly beloved, fear not, peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong. (Daniel: 10:19)
The glory of this latter house shall be greater than the former…and in this place will I give peace. (Haggai: 2:9)
Nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. And none shall make them afraid, neither shall the sword go through their land. Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven. Open to me the gates of righteousness, I will go into them. Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled; and let them hear, and say, it is the truth. And it shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see my glory. And I will set a sign among them, and they shall declare my glory among the nations. For as the new heavens, and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, so shall your seed and your name remain forever. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men. (adapted from Micah 4:3, Leviticus 26:6, Psalms 85:10 and 188:19, Isaiah 43:9 and 66: 18-22, and Luke 2:14)
The movement and the cantata end with a touching epilogue that reprises the opening Latin words: Dona nobis pacem.
Program Notes by Dr. Michael Fink ©2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Tickets start at $15 (including all fees), and can be purchased online at tickets.riphil.org, in person from the RI Philharmonic Orchestra Box Office in East Providence, or by phone 401.248.7000 (Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.). On day of concerts only, tickets are also available at The VETS Box Office (Friday, 3:30 p.m.–showtime; Saturday, 4 p.m.-showtime). Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.